CPEC: Economic Opportunities and Strategic dividends | By Shah Meer

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CPEC: Economic Opportunities and Strategic dividends

Devastating floods have caused havoc across Pakistan, destroying barren lands, inundating roads and collapsing the entire fabric of statecraft.

The torrential rains came at a time when Pakistan is almost on the verge of economic default, foreign exchange reserves are shrinking and the country is dependent on foreign aid. Amid these catastrophes, Islamabad needs sustainable economic development, which it can achieve by refocusing on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

After the change of guards in Pakistan, the newly appointed Planning Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, reasserted Pakistan’s position with regards to the CPEC and said that CPEC could enable Pakistan to become an industrial economy.

Arguably, CPEC is a ray of hope for Pakistan in many ways. Firstly, agriculture contributes nearly 23 per cent to the national GDP and half of the population is indirectly involved in it. It also holds 44 per cent of the share in national employment.

Development in agriculture means an improvement in the life of half of the population of the country. Unfortunately, as per German Watch, Pakistan is the 8th most vulnerable country to climate change in the world.

Pakistan hosted its warmest March in the last sixty years which came during the last heat- wave, causing a wheat deficit of four million and a 30 per cent reduction in mango production. Flood and torrential rains damaged more than two thirds of the dates of Khairpur District leaving 100,000 people jobless.

At a time when heat-waves are predicted to be more frequent in South Asia in this century, Chashma Right Bank Canal (CRBC) under CPEC would be a real game changer for the agriculture sector of Pakistan.

CRBC can irrigate more than 300,000 acres of land in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). It can also improve the efficiency of irrigation technology and help in crop farming, livestock breeding and forestry.

It has the potential to tackle the food shortage and boast the foreign reserves of Pakistan. Also, it would uplift the socio-economic condition of the region while providing employment.

Secondly, CPEC can help reduce Islamabad’s dependency on fossil fuels for electricity generation. There are six major non-renewable energy projects under CPEC responsible for generating thousands of Megawatts of electricity using solar, hydro and wind power.

It has two chief impacts on Pakistan: Islamabad can switch to renewable energy at a time when it is being affected the most by climate change.  It can also achieve Nationally Determined Contributions which are the core principle of the Paris Agreement.

Thirdly, the infrastructure projects are also worth mentioning. The 392 kilometres-long Sukkur-Multan Motorway is considered the largest transport infrastructure project of CPEC. It has created more than 30,000 job opportunities.

A similar transport project is the ML1 multibillion-dollar railway project stretching from Peshawar to Karachi. The project encompasses a digital signalling system, fast transport, and is capable of holding load and traffic. The World Bank considered this project beneficial for Pakistan.

Fourthly, geo-strategically, it further closes Islamabad to Beijing leaving New Delhi alone in search for a formidable ally in the region. Pakistan can take leverage of this partnership for accelerating the Kashmir Cause.

As India is evolving so far in the Western Bloc for China’s containment, it enjoys unprecedented perks and privileges given by the West. Consequently, it can render Pakistan insecure in the region.

Holding stronger ties with Beijing will help Islamabad to use Beijing on diplomatic and economic fronts fighting Indian privileges and assertions in global affairs in general and in international institutions in particular.

Fifthly, CPEC is a multibillion-dollar project which intends to achieve diverse targets and objectives. It is an investment that is unprecedented and game-changing.

Islamabad can use this opportunity to portray Pakistan’s soft image in the world at a time when global politics pivots to ‘soft power. CPEC can be used for breaking the stereotypes against Pakistan. The country is being portrayed as a politically unstable, terrorist-prone and extremist country.

To achieve the benefits mentioned above, Pakistan needs a tripartite consensus claiming that be it any government of any political party, CPEC must be continued in a balanced flow since it is the game changer and ray of hope for Pakistan.

Islamabad also needs to assure that political instability must be controlled and sought out in no time. Moreover, separatists in Balochistan must be accommodated inclusively. Foreign interference and propaganda be dealt with prudence.

Finally, the CPEC is the need of the time for gaining inclusive and sustainable economic development in Pakistan.

Successfully negotiating a one billion dollar bailout package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or getting aid from friendly nations may pillar economic collapse, but it cannot sustain economic prosperity.

Economic prosperity begins with industrialization and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Pakistan so far has achieved industrialization and FDI in the shape of CPEC and the latter undoubtedly is a ray of hope in the darkness.

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